Last week, curiosity rippled through the gaming community as the European Court of Justice (not to be confused with the Justice League) ruled that purchasers of software (both physical and digital) have the legal right to be able to resell that content. As if watching a tennis match, heads swiveled immediately as the ball was batted to major platform holders. We’ve been wondering how Valve and EA might react to the implications on the Steam and Origin platforms.
At least in the case of the former, the answer is “not at all.” During a conversation between a reporter from PCGamesN with Valve’s Director of Business Development, Jason Holtman, the latter was clear in his response to the court ruling (going so far as to repeat himself),
“We don’t have plans to change,” said Holtman.
This is a surprising response, but it’s a more complicated issue than it seems. The actual language of the ruling (which you can read in its entirety) is that the “rightholder can no longer oppose the resale” of a copy of a game regardless of medium upon which it was purchased. With the exception of a few titles, Valve is not the rightholder of games sold via Steam. The company simply manages the distribution channel.
As it stands, publishers cannot operate in accordance with the ruling due to the nature of Steam sales. In order to come into compliance, Valve’s platform would need support not only a system that allowed trading or reselling of every title, but also a mechanism with which to disable and/or destroy the seller’s copy. Perhaps Valve has no plans to change their business model because a scheme for paying for these significant infrastructure changes along with new management and customer service hasn’t been ironed out with the publishers.
It’s an interesting predicament and a fascinating legal question. Are Steam and Origin, in their current formats, an illegal distribution method for digital games? More importantly, what are the implications long term for the industry which has sought salvation in the digital marketplace from “canibalizing” sales of used goods? The biggest question, though, is what does this mean for iTunes, nook, Kindle and other digital purchases that can, at most, be rented to others and even then under rigid conditions.
The European Court of Justice has turned so much of what we understand about content ownership on its ear. Valve, with their unequivocal language, seems to be gearing up for a big legal tussle. One thing is for sure; this will be very interesting to watch play out.